7 Essential Project Management Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Project

Alexandra Cote

Written by

Alexandra Cote

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7 minutes

Category

Work Management

What do all successful people have in common? They ask questions. Same goes for project managers who deliver outstanding projects on a consistent basis.

This skill is crucial given the complexity each project can take.

Why?

Because you’ll be able to identify your largest issues and poke holes through them even before you come up with a project management plan. Not to mention the extra level of readiness provided by a set of available answers, in case unexpected changes will occur. Oh, and they will, trust me.

So before the start of your next project, have it in check by asking these 7 essential project management questions:

1. What is the project’s objective?

Why this is important:

For the correct development of your project management strategy, have all objectives in mind from the start. Get your client’s main requirements and objectives for the project to better plan the project development process and direct your team’s activities towards the main goals.

With no clue about the project deliverables, chaos will soon emerge within your team and blur the lines in terms of who should be in charge of what.

How to handle this:

As part of a complete client management process, get together with your client to set the project’s objectives based on their needs, available resources, and time constraints. Debate until you arrive at the set objectives agreed upon by both sides and put them down so you have a visual representation.

Aim to set measurable objectives from the beginning so you’re able to meet all client requirements without further revisions. Come up with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) objectives that allow you to precisely see what, how, and when to achieve them. When planning your project (particularly during the task management process), you must dedicate at least one activity to each objective to make sure you’re on the right track and gain momentum.

2. When is the deadline?

Why this is important:

A set deadline shows you just how much time you’ve got to conduct the entire project. The project’s deadline, milestones, and other time constraints tell you how you should distribute your work, what activities you’ve got enough time for, and how many schedule time buffers you can add for possible delays and fixing issues.

How to handle this:

One of the best tools you can use to map out your timeline and see your deadlines in a single place is the Gantt Chart. This is a technique that helps you identify task dependencies, deadlines, and more. You can use it to plan activities in advance, get a full view of your milestones, establish your project’s critical path, and see which team member is working on a certain task at a specific moment in time.

gantt charts

Gantt Chart example in Paymo

For team management, you can also use resource scheduling to see which resources are overallocated or not, as well as their availability during a given time period. This tool lets you manage task execution and the team members responsible for each activity based on their workloads.

resource scheduler

Resource Scheduler used in Paymo

For a detailed look at how you can create a resource plan and schedule your team in Paymo, check out our guide.

Don’t forget about deadlines. Set a start and end date for every single activity. These will ensure that everything is kept under control so you can take action when a task is overdue and work on other ones that depend on the previous ones. Team members will no longer have to wait for another teammate to finish a task because everyone’s schedule will be planned from top to bottom.

3. Have you had a similar project before?

Why this is important:

Having previously had a project with similar traits can offer valuable knowledge to begin with. By now, you should be able to tell what worked and what didn’t from your past knowledge. You can even use similar resources, budgets, time estimates, activity lists, and people. In fact, the latter will bring their own recommendations based on their previous experience on similar tasks so that the same mistakes are not made again.

How to handle this:

Completed projects provide relevant insights and help you prepare for risks or issues you wouldn’t have thought of in the first place. Pull them out of your archive and have a better look at them.

Or turn to your client. You might have not dealt with a project like the current one in the past, but your client is likely to have come across this. In this case, their judgment and understanding will prove highly valuable when it comes to deciding upon a deadline and establishing a budget.

Got a project that’s strikingly just like the one you’ve had before but for another client? Lucky you. If you’re using a project management software, you can clone the past project and make adjustments so that it fits any small differences.

4. How will the team communicate?

Why this is important:

Effective communication is vital within any team if you want your project to be completed on time with fewer mistakes. The team members should be able to clearly communicate throughout the whole project so they know exactly what’s going on during each stage, what they’re in charge of, who they should talk to in case they have a question, and also be immediately informed when a change happens.

How to handle this:

Email is no longer a good enough choice when you’re dealing with projects that require constant feedback exchange. Tools like Slack, Google Hangouts, or Skype are used for team collaboration and can be paired with a project management tool. The latter allows you to distribute tasks, allocate resources, manage the project’s execution, and ensure that everything stays within scope, deadline, and budget. You can even collaborate on each task through comments and file sharing. Regardless of whether your team members are working on-site or remotely.

Check out our analysis of 8 modern project management software and apps you can consider using for your next projects.

Don’t forget about communicating with your client at all times to ensure you’ve got feedback on time. Establish your main method of contact from the beginning whether this is your usual exchange of emails or a client access platform supported by your project management tool of choice. The client’s approval for the work you’ve done so far, timelines, and budget allocation are some of the prerequisites for the project to be able to move forward and successfully reach its deadline

5. What tools will be used?

Why this is important:

Work on a project can’t be done effectively and within deadline without using any digital tool at all. Projects can be complex. With so many activities, people, resources, and costs to handle at the same time, you’ll just have to get the help of a few digital tools. You’ll need the occasional event reminder from your digital calendar or video calling tool to stay connected with your client or remote workers.

How to handle this:

Besides the collaboration tools mentioned above, there are more tools you should take into consideration if you’d like a bit more help with other duties. A project management tool, for instance, does more than just support collaboration. It can help you plan and manage tasks, distribute resources, handle risks, organize project portfolios, and much more.

These can be paired up with time tracking tools to measure how much time each employee spends on a task, create timesheets, and use time reports to make better time estimates for future projects. You can also consider other types of tools such as code editors, prototyping, image editing, marketing, file storage, invoicing, payments, or organization tools.

6. What are the project’s priorities?

Why this is important:

When you have a handful of projects to handle simultaneously, task management is only done right when you’ve correctly prioritized your tasks. Establishing the right completion order helps your team stay organized and meet the project’s goals on time.

How to handle this:

First, you need to know these two types of priorities you can set when you’re sorting through tasks:

  • Time-based (this week/ month/his year/today/tomorrow/late/upcoming): A time-based priority implies you must complete the task before the end date you’ve decided upon. For example, a web development project that’s due in two weeks or a prototype that needs to be sent by Friday.
  • Urgency-based (Critical, High, Medium, or Low): These tasks must be completed in order for the project to reach one of its goals. The order in which you handle them depends mostly on when they’ll influence the project’s outcome. As an example, if your app’s login form doesn’t work all of a sudden you need to offer immediate attention and fix the problem quickly.

There are many easy task prioritization tips and methods you can apply for your own task lists. Like the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, which states that barely 20% of the activities that are part of a project count for 80% of the end results.  Your job is to identify those activities and make sure you deliver them on time, without any compromise.

Pareto project questions
For other methods like the Eisenhower Decision Matrix or the Master List you can use for tackling tasks, check out our guide to task management and prioritization.

7. What are the risks?

Why this is important:

Risks are events, situations, actions, or factors that can affect a project’s development, objectives, outcomes, resources, schedule, and budget. Any project will face a risk or change at some point.

Identifying risks before they happen helps you prepare a plan for preventing them from happening or handling those particular ones that can’t be controlled such as a natural disaster affecting the construction of a building or your web developers catching flu just a couple of weeks before the website’s launch.

How to handle this:

As a project manager you’re in charge of assessing what risks can happen in the future, when they’ll occur, and handle them in such a way that it doesn’t affect the project’s outcomes. Put together your risk breakdown structure (RBS) before you start planning so that you have all potential risks in order before you start work.

Keep in mind that risk management is a continuous activity done during the whole project development process. Create a risk register to keep track of a risk’s evolution and mark updates on their status and effects. Just make sure you don’t miss any of them.



Remember these are just 7 of the first project management questions you should ask yourself before you come up with a plan and start working. A real project is much more complex. You’ll also need to think about solving team and stakeholder disagreements, what methods and workflows you’ll use, how performance will be measured, and so much more.

Understanding these details before you get to work is essential when it comes to ensuring a smooth project execution and delivery. Put down every important aspect that goes through your mind, get your team and client’s feedback, and address all issues before you plan the project.

What are the project management questions you must always answer before a project to make sure everything will go right? Share your thoughts!

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